- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

Iran threatened economic retaliation against all countries voting not to let its nuclear program continue. The Islamic republic singled out India, voicing “surprise” over its backing of an International Atomic Energy Agency resolution that would send Tehran’s case to the U.N. Security Council.

Iran, a country of 68 million, the vast majority Shi’ite Muslims, has long enjoyed cordial relations with India, a country with 26 million Shi’ites, though they represent a minority given India’s total 1.1 billion population.

Tehran wasted no time going on the diplomatic offensive, saying it would “review all its economic and trade ties with all those countries which voted against Tehran.”

But Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told United Press International he believed there was little Iran could really do to strike back economically. “Sanctions from Iran would not work,” said Mr. Clawson, as Iran needs all the business it can get.

Mr. Clawson explains: Iran is not finding a client for its natural gas pipeline, and if it imposed sanctions, it would only hurt itself even more. It would hurt Iran most if the pipeline from Iran, through Pakistan and on to India, were stopped.

The Islamic republic also threatened to resume uranium enrichment — which would take it closer to nuclear military capacity. It also threatened to block U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities unless the U.N. nuclear watchdog group, the IAEA, withdraws its resolution. Referral to the Security Council would almost certainly result in sanctions against Iran.

“We were very surprised by India,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters in Tehran. Mr. Asefi said Tehran would send “a letter of objection to the countries that voted for the resolution.”

Twenty-two countries voted for the resolution Saturday, calling for Iran to back off its nuclear ambition. But Iran is fighting back. The government spokesman warned the 22 countries that voted against Iran “of economic consequences.”

But the U.S. is delighted by India’s position. “We appreciate the support. The world is saying to Iran that it is time to come clean,” said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

In Washington, the White House has said Iran’s behavior “was unacceptable.” Mr. McClellan said, “The world has put Iran on notice with this resolution.”

The White House spokesman said the U.S. continues to support European diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis but stressed it had “become clear” a growing number of nations are aware that “Iran’s noncompliance must be addressed.”

Mr. Clawson said: “India is quite torn, because they insisted for all countries to have all rights to do what they need.

“But India is eager to show its nonproliferation stance to the United States and to the Europeans. India wants to be taken as a serious partner,” he added.

New Delhi’s position also distances India from Pakistan, its nuclear-armed neighbor and longtime adversary in the Subcontinent. Analysts believe Pakistan may have been involved in giving, or selling, nuclear technology to Tehran.

“It is quite clear in retrospect that A.Q. Khan [father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb] initially had interest in getting ‘an Islamic bomb,’ or at least the technology to Iran,” Mr. Clawson said. “He provided them with important assistance.”

The rest came from the Chinese government and, Mr. Clawson says, from unemployed former Soviet nuclear scientists. After the Soviet Union’s breakup, hundreds of former Soviet scientists found themselves looking for new employers, and Iran was only too happy to oblige.

Today Tehran feels it is in a position of power on the nuclear issue because it believes it already has Russia’s and China’s assurances any “anti-Iran” resolution in the Security Council would be vetoed, leaving the United States stranded with a dead resolution and no power to enforce it.

If Tehran’s mullahcracy feels it can negotiate from a position of strength and hold at bay the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, it is largely because the Bush administration has so far not come up with a rational policy on Iran but has been so preoccupied with Iraq it let Iran slip by.

Iran, meanwhile, is playing a dangerous game of “chicken” with the United States, hoping Washington blinks first.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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